Most people would have felt homesick at some time in their lives. As a student, homesickness may be experienced in several circumstances such as when you:
- Go to school.
- Are on a trip.
- Have moved to a new place or to a new country.
Homesickness is not only linked with your home but also with your familiar people, places and routines.
Why do we feel homesick?
Homesickness arises from the human need for connection, love and security. The familiarity with your home, family and friends gives you a sense of security and stability. The familiar ways help you to function well, and therefore you are able to cope better with any possible challenges.
However, when you are in a new environment without your usual support system, these coping skills are challenged and you are required to function by adapting to the unfamiliar. This generates a fear of not being able to cope and has an effect on your self-esteem and confidence.
Beginning a life away from home usually makes people feel both excitement and anxiety. You may experience these feelings before the change in anticipation of the separation. Others feel fine initially and start feeling homesick much later. It is important to realise that you are not the only one who is feeling homesick.
It has been found that this change is a form of loss. The symptoms of homesickness therefore are associated with grieving of this loss and a yearning for what is familiar and secure in the people – family and friends, places and routines. In addition there is the realisation that family life continues without you.
Your vulnerability may be influenced by the distance you are from home, an anti-climax of finally arriving at this long-awaited goal, whether this is your wish or choice to undergo this change, your expectations may fall short of what you had anticipated, the huge work load, the prevailing situation at home or the contrast now in your lifestyle.
People have different levels of tolerance to change and different ways of coping with new situations. The transition takes time, and it is very important to have a good balance between maintaining a connection with the old and adapting to the new.
What are some of the symptoms to look out for?
- Continually preoccupied with home to a point it is preventing you from engaging in the present.
- Constantly comparing your new situation with your old one and idealising your old situation.
- Feeling depressed.
- Feeling you do not belong.
- Withdrawal and isolation.
- Struggling with work.
- Not in control.
- Feeling abandoned, helpless and unsupported.
- Signs of low self-esteem.
- Difficulties sleeping.
- Anxiety, stressed, irritable, unable to concentrate.
- Behaviour that is out of character such as sudden bursts of anger, headaches.
What can help you?
1. Maintain contact with family and friends from home, talk and share what is happening for you and them.
2. Keep familiar things from home out in your room e.g. photos, items of cultural identity.
3. Try to avoid preoccupations by getting involved with things in your new situation.
4. Continue traditions, rituals and activities which help you feel connected to home.
5. Share memories of home, family, food, culture, music, stories with others.
6. Give yourself time to adjust to your new situation.
7. Get involved in volunteering in community projects, charity work to help you feel part of your new environment.
8. You are allowed to feel sad and homesick, and you are allowed to enjoy yourself too. You are not being disloyal to those you miss.
9. Talk to a trusted person about how you are feeling. Sometimes it is not possible to speak to people at home about how you feel. You do not want to worry them and you want them to feel that you are coping well.
10. Knowing that seeking help does not mean you are ‘weak’. It is part of taking care of yourself.
11. Keep a reflective journal to help you get in touch with and track your thoughts.
12. Try and identify positive aspects of your new experiences rather than focus on the negative.
13. Look for similarities in people and situations between home and your new place.
14. Go outside, out of your room, go for a walk, get some fresh air.
15. Change the place you do your studying; library, your room, café.
16. Have regular exercise as this releases endorphins which will help your mood.
17. Make sure you eat and sleep well.
18. Make contacts and friends through shared activities, clubs, sport.
19. Learn a new skill.
20. Challenge yourself, have manageable goals, socialise, accept an invitation, try new things.
21. Step out of your comfort zone to allow yourself to grow and experience change.
22. Connect with your surroundings; e.g. museums, theatres, parks, cultural tours.
23. Have a balance between work and leisure.
24. Take plenty of breaks.
25. Do not be too hard on yourself, be realistic about what to expect from yourself and student life.
26. Seek advice if you are not sure about your course and academic goal. Seek assistance with improving your study skills and time organisation.
27. Be patient and persevere; you are not the only one who is homesick.
28. Seek help from a professional. Do not suffer on your own and get worse.